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Richard Freeman of Waterbury

There were at least two men named Richard “Dick” Freeman in Waterbury. One lived in Westbury (Watertown), the other in Waterbury.

The name “Freeman” was often taken as a surname by African Americans who had been freed from slavery; it was also, however, the word used to refer to the voting members, normally white men, of a town.

Richard Freeman of Waterbury was remembered fondly by Henry Bronson in his 1858 History of Waterbury. Freeman’s death in 1835 was recorded by Bennett Bronson as “Dick, a negro, d. Jan. 12, 1835, a. 90.” His death was recorded with slightly more dignity by Rev. Allen C. Morgan, rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church: “Richard Freeman (negro) d. Jan. 12, 1835, a. about 96.” This seems to be the only reference to his full name.

According to Henry Bronson, Dick often talked about being taken captive while he was a child “on the shores of Africa” while playing in the sand. He was born in either 1739 or 1745; his capture probably occurred in the early- to mid-1750s. He was sold several times before finally arriving in Waterbury, where he was the property of Rev. James Scovill and of Deacon Stephen Bronson. Scovill also had a woman named Phillis enslaved in his household. Henry Bronson wrote that Dick was sold several times, with the understanding that “he might return when he chose.” It is not clear what he meant by this.

Rev. Scovill moved to New Brunswick in 1788. Dick remained in Waterbury, apparently as a free man. Henry Bronson wrote that Dick worked for Rev. Scovill’s son and for Stephen Bronson after 1788.

In 1788, Dick "an Affrican [sic.] servant of the Revd. James Scovill" purchased two acres, fourteen rods of land from Waterbury's Simeon Nichols. The property was located at the north end of Simeon's property, near Smug's Brook in the southeastern part of town. Dick sold his property to Isaiah Prichard in 1796 for twice his original purchase price. The transaction appears in the Waterbury Land Records.

In 1792 Dick purchased a "small dwelling house" built by Sampson on a lot that had once been owned by Simeon Nichols and was then the property of Capt. William Leavenworth. It was located in the eastern section of Waterbury. The deed was witnessed by Preserved and Isaac Porter and copied in the Waterbury Land Records

Dick does not appear by name in the 1790 census of Waterbury; the 1800 census lists him as a free African and the head of a household of four other people.

We know from Henry Bronson that Dick had a wife and children. He may have been married to an African American woman named Time. The 1810 census lists two free African Americans, Dick and Time, living together in Waterbury.

In 1789, an African American woman named Time divorced her husband Dick. Time and Dick had been married in 1772, when they were both enslaved by Capt. Moses Rice of Wallingford, Connecticut. After many years, Dick left Time to live with another woman in Cheshire; Time petitioned for divorce on the grounds of her husband’s adultery.

Dick was considered to be a “member of the family” by the Scovills and Bronsons, although census data suggests that he was living in the poor house by the 1830s. Henry Bronson remembered from his childhood that Dick was a kind man who became blind in old age. Bronson also recalled that “wicked boys” would “play tricks” on Dick after he lost his sight.

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John Kingsbury's Day Book- 1795
Judge Kingsbury's day book, showing that he recorded a deed and survey for Dick Freeman on February 24. Collection of the Mattatuck Museum.

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